Björk finds her way back to love on Utopia, while Sufjan Stevens serves up lovely Carrie & Lowell outtakes on his Greatest Gift mixtape. These, plus Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds in this week’s notable releases.
[One Little Indian]
“Arca’s presence on the record is undeniable, but part of the magic of their collaboration is its seamlessness with Björk’s back catalog. Wondrous and intense, Utopia is as Björkian as it gets. It functions as a strong rejection of Vulnicura’s darkness, drawing more from the warm, futuristic ‘folktronica’ of 2001’s Vespertine, inspired by her then-nascent relationship with [Matthew] Barney. It’s no coincidence that on Utopia Björk is dating again, and a breathtaking lightness permeates its 72 minutes. Part of that is expressed in Björk’s lilting, baroque choral and flute arrangements, as well as the Icelandic and Venezuelan birdsong that chatters throughout; part of it is in the album’s lyrical themes of possibility and detoxification.”
Read our full review of Utopia here.
Sufjan Stevens, The Greatest Gift
Sufjan Stevens has done this before: Not long after a proper album release, out comes a non-album filled with plenty of good stuff. The Greatest Gift is positioned, weirdly, as a mixtape—maybe that’s just a bid to be cool—and it features outtakes, remixes, and demos from 2015’s epically sad Carrie & Lowell. There are four entirely new songs, most notably the seven-minute “Wallowa Lake Monster.” Thematically, it makes sense with Carrie & Lowell, since the album was largely about (and named after) Stevens’ mother and stepfather. “Wallowa” is a harrowing, metaphor-packed epic about her battle with depression and eventual death. And honestly, everything else here is kind of icing after that one: There are Helado Negro remixes of two other Carrie tracks, a couple of spare demos from the album, and a lovely version of “Drawn To The Blood” that’s packed with finger-picked guitar.
RIYL: The original Carrie & Lowell. Art about death, but not in a goth way.
Start here: If you don’t like the wordy, weird “Wallowa Lake Monster,” you probably don’t like Sufjan Stevens. [Josh Modell]
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Who Built The Moon?
Whereas his brother Liam turned a bit inward on his recent solo debut, Noel Gallagher, unsurprisingly, is doing the opposite. His third solo album with the High Flying Birds, Who Built The Moon?, turns everything up to 11, hardly ever dropping down to add a necessary level of drama, or even basic tension. It’s like an extremely amped-up version of Oasis, but the excesses sway from impressive to taxing. Often the effort to be interesting just comes off as nonsensical cacophony, like the alarm-clock ring in “Fort Knox” or the French dialogue at the end of “It’s A Beautiful World.” Although Gallagher can still capture the hooks that elude lesser songwriters, they nearly get lost in his orchestral overages. “Black & White Sunshine” seems to have at least three superlative songs in it, while “If Love Is The Law” piles on sleigh bells, harmonica, and strings to its plaintive romantic plea, which can barely be heard by the time the chorus crescendos. Bonus track “Dead In The Water” offers Gallagher’s sentimental vocals with just acoustic guitar and piano, and underlines what’s so off about the rest of the album: He may be having fun layering a multitude of tracks in the studio, but the truth is he doesn’t need them.
RIYL: Oasis, naturally. Pepped-up shoegazers. Ordering Red Bull and vodka at the club. All-you-can-eat buffets.
Start here: The horn-fueled pop surge of “Holy Mountain” is so straight-up irrepressible, it’s invigorating over exhausting. [Gwen Ihnat]